02/01/2007 02:12 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Two Sides of the Giuliani Coin

Should he formally enter the race for president, Rudy Giuliani begins as a very popular figure among Republicans, according to the Gallup poll released earlier today. The perceived advantages of the former New York City Mayor over Senator John McCain on being "better in a crisis" (68% to 28%) and doing a better job on crime (78% to 17%) suggest an appeal is rooted in his identity as a "hero of 9/11 [and] a crime busting federal prosecutor," to quote today's article
by Susan Page in USA Today. However, the far more important finding from that survey comes from this "money quote" from Page's story (thanks to Charles

As fondly remembered as Giuliani
is for responding to Sept. 11, however, most Americans don't know much else
about him. Barely one in five Republicans knew that he supports abortion rights
and civil unions for same-sex couples, the USA TODAY poll found. Nearly as
many thought he was "pro-life" as said he was "pro-choice."

When they were told about his
stance on those issues, his star dimmed. One in five Republicans said his views
would "rule him out as a candidate" they could support. That included
one-third of those who attend church every week, an important base of the GOP
that makes up a third of party loyalists.

Another 25% of Republicans said
his views made them less likely to support him, nearly double the proportion
who said they made them more likely to support him.

For what it's worth, these are the sorts of questions that campaign pollsters tend to ask on internal surveys conducted early in the race. Campaign pollsters are less interested in early horse race numbers than in understanding how new information can change perceptions and support. Page's article did not include a link to those specific results, but Gallup typically releases results in separate results, so perhaps we will have more details later.

Consider the results Page discusses against these findings from the ABC News analysis
of the most recent ABC/Washington Post poll:

McCain had his own difficulties with conservatives
in 2000, and Giuliani leads McCain among conservative Republicans by 33 to 21
percent. It's among moderates that they're closer, 37-32 percent.

Giuliani and McCain also run about evenly among
evangelical white Protestants, a core Republican group with whom McCain's had
strained relations.

Most important, though, is Giuliani's advantage
among committed Republicans, who, like their Democratic counterparts, are more apt
to vote in primaries. Giuliani holds a 10-point advantage over McCain among
this group; McCain, by contrast, runs quite competitively among independents
who lean Republican. That was the case in 2000; his problem was that, outside
of New Hampshire,
not enough of them showed up to vote.

Given sample sizes,
Giuliani's overall seven-point advantage over McCain among leaned Republicans
is not significant at the customary 95 percent confidence level. Instead it's
82 percent likely that Giuliani has a real lead in the contest.

Collectively, these results support an intriguing possibility: Both Republican frontrunners may end up with problems with conservative, religious and/or committed Republicans, leaving a
huge opening for a third candidate in the early primaries.